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Focus on Global Biodiversity

October 2010

Coffee Comes Home

photoHarvesting the bounty of the shea tree in West Africa

Coffee is second only to water as the most popular drink in the world. It is second only to petroleum as the largest item of international commerce. The beverage provides a living for an estimated 100 million people and is worth an estimated $US 30 billion to producing countries.

Despite this global status, coffee had a humble beginning, being discovered and harvested in the highlands of Ethiopia centuries ago by local goat herders and villagers.

In a remarkable twist of history coffee is now playing a central role in helping preserve the very forests and the livelihoods of local peoples in the area where it was first discovered—and in the process helping to protect the country's biodiversity.

Ethiopia is one of the world's oldest countries but with an exploding population of 75 million people, 90% of the forests which once covered the land on the Horn of Africa have already been chopped down and the rest are under threat.

Since 2003 JICA has been working with local authorities to help preserve the last great area of forests in the southwest of the country. The key to success is to persuade communities to harvest the bounty of the woodlands as they have traditionally done, but in ways which also maintain the integrity of the forests themselves.

Targeted villages have been organized into WaBuBs which in the local Oromo language means Forest Management Associations. The associations have both rights and obligations – receiving agricultural training and the official right to harvest and sell both timber and non-timber forest products but also acting as guardians of the forest—preventing the further spread of farmland and destruction of trees and managing the bounties of the forest in a responsible manner.

Coffee grows wild in the forest – indeed it needs the higher tree cover for growth – and it is an important source of revenue for the 6,000 farmers who have trained in the program. Because the process is now carefully controlled and monitored, the Ethiopian coffee has gained ‘fair trade' status which allows it to be sold at a premium price and into key world markets, including Japan.

Another traditional treasure, the shea tree, is helping poor farmers in the West African state of Burkina Faso to halt the destruction of that country's forests, protect its biodiversity and raise the standard of living of local communities.

Ethiopia and Burkino Faso are among the world's poorest countries. They have suffered disproportionately from the effects of climate change – being responsible for virtually non of the current global warming but suffering environmental degradation from its effects. In the case of Burkina Faso that has resulted in unpredictable rainfall patterns, desertification and drought.

Villagers in one area of Burkina Faso have now been organized into Groupements de Gestion Forestiere, or forest management groups, with similar aims and obligations to the WaBub of Ethiopia.

Among the forest products they are harvesting responsibly, in addition to timber, honey and fruit, is seed of the shea tree whose fat is used as the basis of expensive cosmetics such as so-called shea butter and is now marketed in fashionable stores from Tokyo to New York.

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